Last summer, as wildfires swept through the Pacific Northwest, members of Congress and the Obama administration vowed to provide ongoing funding to fight and prevent raging forest fires.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who visited the fire camps in Northeastern Washington, said wildfires need to be funded as disasters. In her view, this would leave fire prevention budgets in place for thinning dense forest stands, rehabilitating areas after wildfires and making sure communities are more resilient to fire.
An excellent idea. And this train of thought seemed to be dominating in Washington, D.C., as lawmakers prepared the federal budget. The Los Angeles Times reported the proposal was backed by the White House, several Western senators of both parties, timber industry leaders and some conservation groups.
But when congressional leaders were finished hammering out their final budget, funding for fighting wildfires was an afterthought. The provisions changing how firefighting is funded and forests are protected were gone.
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Instead, the Los Angeles newspaper reported, a one-time $600-million increase in the fire suppression budget, about 50 percent up from this year, was in its place. While the additional cash is necessary and welcome, far more needed to be done – and done on an ongoing basis.
If the federal government would fund fire fighting as it does battling other natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes, money would likely be available year after year to prevent future fires.
So for now, Congress is rolling the dice – hoping the number of forest fires in 2016 will be far less.